Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday condoled the demise of Cuban leader Fidel Castro whom he described as one of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century and a "good friend" of India.
"I extend my deepest condolences to the government and people of Cuba on the sad demise of Fidel Castro. May his soul rest in peace," he tweeted.
"Fidel Castro was one of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century. India mourns the loss of a great friend," the Prime Minister said.
He said India extends support to the Cuban government and its people in this tragic hour.
Cuba's former president and communist idol Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in his country, died at 90 years of age.
India-Cuba relations have been traditionally warm and friendly.
India was among the first countries to recognise Cuba after the 1959 revolution which closed a long era of Washington's dominance over Cuba dating to the 1989 Spanish-American War.
Both countries have maintained close contacts in various international fora, most importantly the United Nations.
India had supported resolutions in the UN General Assembly calling for the lifting of US sanctions against Cuba. While Cuba shared India's views on democratising UN and expansion of the UN Security Council and India's inclusion as a permanent member of the restructured UN Security Council.
Since the Cuban Revolution, many important bilateral visits have taken place between both sides.
Jawaharlal Nehru received Che Guevara in Delhi and met president Castro in New York. According to Ministry of External Affairs, they developed an instant rapport.
“The first person who came to see me was Prime Minister Nehru. I can never forget his magnificent gesture. I was 34 years of age, not widely known. I was tense. Nehru boosted my morale. My tension disappeared,” Castro said years later to former Minister of External Affairs K Natwar Singh, reports The Hindu.
Thereafter prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Manmohan Singh paid visits to Cuba in 1985 and 2006 respectively. Vice-President Hamid Ansari paid an official visit to Cuba in October 2013. Castro and Indira Gandhi also met on several occasions.
Castro visited India in 1973 and 1983 and Che Guevara in 1959. Bruno Rodriguez, foreign minister of Cuba visited India in May, 2013, while First Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel Bermudez visited India in March, 2015.
In 2008, the Indian government wrote off the principal and interest of $62 million, equivalent to Rs 1.28 billion debt owed to India as a measure of solidarity towards the people of Cuba.
India also provided aid to Cuba when it was passing through an economic crisis in the early 1990s. In December 1992, India donated 10,000 tonnes of wheat and 10,000 tonnes of rice to Cuba.
Castro personally welcomed the vessel that brought the grain and labelled it the “Bread of India” as it was sufficient for one loaf of bread for each one of Cuba’s 11 million people, reports Frontline.
India also granted an aid of $2 million in cash as disaster relief assistance to Cuba in the wake of the massive devastation caused by the hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma during August and September 2008.
India and Cuba have also maintained trade ties for decades. In 2014-15, India's exported good and services worth $37.32 million, while the imports from Cuba was worth $1.57 million.
India’s major export items to Cuba are pharmaceutical products, organic chemicals, plastic and rubber articles, machinery and mechanical appliances, etc. Major import items from Cuba include pharmaceutical products, tobacco items, raw hides and skins, leather, etc.
Even yoga and meditition have found home in Cuba. Yoga forms part of the health curriculum of the government. There are several followers of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his Art of Living Foundation and also Iskcon.
Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore is also regarded as an important icon in Cuba. Tagore’s birth anniversary is celebrated every year in the country. On 7 May 2007, a bust of Tagore donated by ICCR was unveiled in Old Havana. The library at Casa de Asia is also named after Tagore.
With inputs from agencies